As a kid in rural New York, JR Butler wasn’t interested in becoming a fireman or a cowboy when he grew up. His dream was to become an artist. And this dream never faded. A few years ago, when he was at a crossroad in his life, he decided to take a leap and pursue art full time.
He has no regrets.
“My art consists mainly of organic, abstract works in a variety of mediums–inspired primarily by nature and the human condition,” says JR. “Although I would describe the majority of my work this way, I am very flexible in my artistic abilities.” Recent works include twig knitting and crochet needles, a large rabbit mural, and an installation piece made from clear packaging tape.
JR earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Colorado State University in 2005. His work has been exhibited at the Curfman Gallery, the Fort Collins Lincoln Center, and for the Denver Art Museum at Block 7 Gallery. He moved to North Carolina in 2011 where he continues to develop his work – individually and through collaborations — at the North Carolina Arts Incubator in Siler City, NC. He served as the interim director there for six months until DeeDee Brown was hired and is now the pottery studio manager.
“Being at the Arts Incubator has been a great way to get to know other artists and art lovers here in Chatham County,” he said. “I love the community we have here. My only wish is that more people would visit us in Siler City and see just what an amazing group of artists and artisans live here.”
From the artist
Tell us a bit of your story. What led you to become an artist? I have wanted to be an artist ever since I was a child. I was fortunate to have an incredible art teacher, Hans Wingasson, who saw that desire in me and always encouraged me to follow that path. My whole life I’ve wanted nothing more than to be an artist. I have tried on and off over the years to do something with my art but it was only recently that I decided to throw caution to the wind and just do it. It’s challenging sometimes, but it is all worth it to be able to follow my dreams.
What are you currently working on? I’ve started a new pottery series recently that I’m very excited about. I start with a large hand built pot. Once it has been bisque fired, I will use it as a mold to create the next piece. I’ll continue using this method until I reach the smallest pot I can make. The exterior of each subsequent pot will mirror that of the interior of the previous one. I want this to signify how people make impressions on each other.
I grew up: In the Delaware River Valley in and around Port Jervis, NY. It’s a rural area much like Chatham County. I then moved to Wyoming when I was 20 and lived there for about 10 years before moving to Colorado to go to school.
I currently live: In Silk Hope, NC.
Strong memory from my childhood: I’m not sure how much it meant to me at the time but looking back, if there were one toy from my childhood that I could have again it would be my Snoopy puzzle. I had all kinds of highly sought after 70’s toys that I loved (i.e., anything Star Wars), but the Snoopy puzzle was special. My mother drew out the picture of Snoopy lying on top of his dog house and painted it in, then my dad cut it out with a scroll saw. I think about that puzzle often, and it means so much to me that my parents took the time to make that special gift for me.
Jobs I’ve had: I worked for many years in construction doing everything from framing and siding to drywall and interior trim. I also worked for a number of years in Colorado setting up shows in art galleries which was an incredible experience. I had the opportunity to put artworks by artists like Maria Montoya Martinez, Andy Warhol, and Pablo Picasso in art exhibits and I loved it!
I am inspired by: Nature and the human condition. One of my favorite types of art is primitive art for the same reason. It speaks in simple terms about the people and nature that surrounded them. I also draw inspiration from friends and family and the local arts community.
When I’m not making art I like to: Spend time hanging out with friends. One of my favorite things to do with them is to go out and enjoy different ethnic foods. Indian food and sushi are a couple of my favorites.
I’m most proud of: My daughters Danielle and Makayla. They are growing up to be two wonderful young ladies and I am very proud of them.
Most people don’t know I: Have generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) which in many ways has been a large obstacle that has presented many challenges for me to face in order to follow my dreams of being an artist. To be a successful artist, it helps to be open and able to discuss my concepts and work. Sometimes that can be difficult for me, but I work at being more social and at being more at ease around others. Anxiety disorders aren’t something people see immediately, but they feel very real to the people experiencing them. Here’s a link if anyone would like to learn more about this.
If I could be anything I wanted and there was no chance of failure, I would be: An artist!
My favorite place to eat/drink/hang out in Chatham County: The Courtyard Coffee and Soda Café in Siler City. Aside from having the best lattes and smoothies around, you never know what interesting local characters you might meet or where the conversation may lead.
Chatham County artists who inspire me: Chatham County is rich with talented artists and there may be too many to mention. Off the top of my head, Roger Person. He’s one of the most prolific artists I know in Chatham County. He’s also been very supportive of my art and I appreciate all he does to help local artists succeed. Also Chana Meeks. She’s, to me, the face of the NC Arts Incubator. Everyone knows and loves her. Like Roger, she’s always trying to make Siler City’s arts community successful. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Julia Kennedy. She’s a fantastic abstract painter and one of my personal favorites.
Ten years from now you’ll find me: Making art! It’s what I live to do and what I hope you will find me doing from here on out.
Where you can find JR’s work
- PAF Gallery at the NC Arts Incubator, Siler City
- Courtyard Coffee and Soda Café, Siler City
- Blue Dot Café, Pittsboro
- Galloway Ridge, Pittsboro
Selected photos in this article are by Bett Wilson Foley. All others are courtesy of JR Butler’s personal collection.